April 23, 2019 | 61° F

Rutgers study finds exercise, coupled with meditation, can help improve traumatic thoughts of sexual violence survivors

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The study conducted out of Rutgers—New Brunswick found that women who were victims of sexual violence that coupled meditation with aerobic exercise, under lab specified criteria, reported less negative thoughts and improved self-esteem. 

A new study out of Rutgers—New Brunswick has found that a combination of aerobic exercise and meditation can help curb negative thoughts and improve feelings of self-worth for women who are victims of sexual assault suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The research published in “Frontiers in Neuroscience” found that these symptoms were significantly reduced in women who had a history of sexual violence following a combination of mental and physical training, with meditation and aerobic exercise, performed twice a week for 1 hour over six weeks, according to an article from Rutgers Today

“Despite the undeniable connection between sexual trauma and mental illness, few interventions are tailored for women who experience sexual violence,” said Tracey Shors, distinguished professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, in an interview with Rutgers Today. 

The study examined 100 women between the ages of 18 and 32, with approximately one-third of the population having experienced sexual violence, and found that after six weeks of clinical intervention trauma-related thoughts significantly decreased among those who were victims of sexual assault, according to the article.  

Shors said that typically victims of sexual assault ruminate over their experiences and ask what they could have done differently. This process leads to a revision of old memories and, as a result, the creation of new ones. Mental And Physical training (MAP) helped decrease these thought patterns in victims of violence. 

The study was broken down into four groups: one which underwent the MAP training with meditation and aerobic exercise, the second which only meditated, the third which only completed the aerobic exercise and the fourth which did not take part in the training, according to the article. Sessions began with 20 minutes of sitting meditation, 10 minutes of slow-walking meditation and finished with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Shors said that the combination of meditation and exercise had the most profound effect — with an increase in self-worth across all participants, according to the article. Patients with trauma-related thoughts did not experience the same results with only meditation or exercise.

“What we found is that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts,” Shors said in the article. 

While many of the 25 percent of women worldwide who experience some kind of sexual violence do not have PTSD, they still have symptoms related to the memory of their experiences and MAP can help them according to the data, she said. 

Alongside co-authors Emma Millon and Michelle Chang, graduate students at Rutgers, Shor recently took part in a Rutgers National Science Foundation sponsored program with the goal of streamlining laboratory discoveries, such as theirs, into the marketplace, according to the article.  

“The #MeToo movement and other platforms have provided women with an opportunity to tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault,” Shors said. “It is important that we also provide them with new ways to help them recover from these experiences.”

Christian Zapata

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